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A Role Reversal

Dartmouth hosts Nicaraguans first visit to U.S.

Note: This story is a web addition to the print version of Dartmouth Life.

As they sat around a bonfire in Siuna, Nicaragua last December, students from Dartmouth and the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN) reflected on their sixth year of working together on a Tucker Foundation Cross Cultural Education and Service Program. One URACCAN student asked: "Si ustedes pueden venir acá, por qué nosotros no podemos ir allá?" In English: "If you can come here, why can't we go there?"

Ana Merino, assistant professor of Spanish, far right, discusses the Orozco Murals in Baker-Berry Library with the Nicaraguan students and others.
Ana Merino, assistant professor of Spanish, far right, discusses the Orozco mural in Baker-Berry Library with the Nicaraguan students and others. (photo by Kawakahi Amina '09)

For many on that trip, such as Douglas Moody, senior lecturer in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Ben Jastrzembski '08, the question struck a chord. "I woke up thinking about it," recalled Moody. "It made perfect sense. Why couldn't it happen?" Back at Dartmouth, Moody and Jastrzembski proposed the idea and received support from the Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Allen and Joan Bildner Endowment for Human and Inter-group Relations, the Tucker Foundation, the Office of the Provost, and the external organization Bridges to Community. Arrangements were made and in July six students and a professor who had never been to the U.S. before arrived at Dartmouth for a 10-day visit.  

The Nicaraguans lived at La Casa, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese affinity house. They toured the campus and participated in anthropology, environmental studies, and Spanish classes. In ANTH 33, Latino Roots and Transitions, they discussed (with the help of interpreter Glavielinys "Glavy" Cruz '08) their first-hand experience with patterns of migration in Nicaragua and Central America. "Particularly for non-Latino students, their observations made the course material palpable in a very different way," said Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera, assistant professor of anthropology. Ana Merino, assistant professor of Spanish, gave the Nicaraguans a tour of the Orozco mural and the Hood Museum, and she also prepared a dinner with them at La Casa. "This was a unique opportunity to share intellectual ideas, passions, and perspectives," said Merino.

Off-campus, the Nicaraguans volunteered for COVER, an organization in White River Junction, Vt. that provides home repair to the needy. They visited a local health clinic for the uninsured, and explored a contaminated historic mine in Strafford, Vt. "Many of the issues facing Siuna, Nicaragua are health and environment related," said Jastrzembski, who helped plan the itinerary. "We wanted to show that in the U.S. we face similar issues."

Students outside of La Casa
Outside of La Casa, front row, left to right: URACCAN student Hugo Gonzales, URACCAN professor Ivan Jarquin, URACCAN student Dennis Adisman, Benjamin Jastrzembski '08, Douglas Moody, senior lecturer in the department of Spanish and Portuguese. Back row: Glavielinys Cruz '08, Bridges to Community staff member Kenia Ramirez, and URACCAN students William Chacon, Ramon Hernandez, Elizabeth Altamirano and Marlon Rayos. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

At URACCAN, the Nicaraguans study the complexities of diversified farming and sustainable resource management. "We have to balance growing foods to eat such as rice and beans, with growing cash crops such as the cacao plant that provide income," said URACCAN student William Chacon during a presentation to a Dartmouth Ecological Agriculture class.  Chacon said he frequently meets with farmers to share the benefits of pesticide-free farming. Chacon's classmate, Marlin Rayo, said his visit to the Dartmouth Organic Farm was particularly informative. "I'm eager to go back to Nicaragua and share all I've learned," said Rayo.

Asked what he would remember most about his visit, Chacon talked about seeing the first edition of Galileo's Opere in Rauner Special Collections Library, and salsa dancing past midnight in Collis. "Everyone has been so kind and welcoming. Professors read us poetry in Spanish. I held a book written by Galileo in my hands. Glavy stayed up late to help me with my Power Point presentations, and Ben (Jastrzembski) has been a true friend. This has been the trip of my dreams."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08